“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.”
I suppose I was predestined to be a musician in some fashion or another. If asked, my parents would tell you I came out of the womb singing… Well, and talking, but that’s another story altogether. Even as a child, I heard the world through song. All of the poignant moments, and even some of the inconsequential ones, were vividly and dramatically laced with accompanying symphonies or ditties. Endless loops of made up melodies (which, God bless the 80’s, probably sounded vaguely similar to something by Duran Duran or Whitney Houston) danced in my head as I rode the bus to school and spent my recesses scaling the jungle gym. And when the movie soundtracks for Flashdance and Beaches came out? Forget about it. I was putty in their musical hands.
I sometimes feel my life has been a never-ending Broadway show. Every now and then, there has even been an impromptu tap routine to go along with it. I’m just that kind of gal. Perhaps I was meant to be raised in the Vaudeville era, or to lend my artistic talents to the theatrically satirical world of cabaret. Can’t you just envision me strutting my stuff in fishnets and a flapper costume, and entertaining the masses on the Orpheum Circuit? If you need additional assistance picturing that, check out my second album, Coffee & Men: An EP For Childish Adults. You might be left wondering if you’ve been beamed back to a 1920’s speakeasy. But I digress. The point is that music has always been in my life, and that’s putting it mildly.
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”
― Victor Hugo
In many ways, music has spoken for me. It has been my mouthpiece and my sounding board. It has also been my therapist, my saving grace, my catharsis, and my drug. It has served as a refuge, a wastebasket, a punching bag, and a holy grail… often all at once. So it is with a happy heart that I recognize this same passion in my daughter, Gray.
While she’s only 22 months old, Gray’s love of music is undeniable. In fact, for the most part, our days begin and end with song. Gray rocks out to her “Bath Time Jam” playlist while in the tub, is frequently found strumming my guitar or tinkering away on her mini piano, and unconsciously hums when she’s in her happy place. She even makes up random little tunes about Elmo, and diapers, and broccoli. (Though not all at the same time, thankfully…) We have kitchen dance parties to Frank Sinatra, and nary a car ride is had without her lengthy list of special requests. Oh! And God forbid I watch an episode of The Voice without her. That girl has some serious opinions about who deserves a four-chair turn! Anyway, I have no doubt there’s music running through Gray’s veins, which is why my husband and I decided to enroll her in a class called Music Together. A friend brought us along for a demo session about a year ago, and we were immediately hooked. Now I won’t lie, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of “Mommy & Me” type classes… or maybe it’s just that I feel so darn out of place at most of them. But there’s something about Music Together that drew me in, even in all of my cynical glory. Our fabulous teacher, Miss Kym, always manages to be equally encouraging to parents and children alike, which I thoroughly appreciate. I asked her to explain the philosophy behind that, and here’s what she said: “I think if parents are having fun, then their children will have fun too! Our kids usually know how we are feeling. If you are relaxed and having fun singing and dancing, so will your child; our kids are wired to absorb and learn from the adult role models in their lives.“ For some background, Music Together is an international research-based parent/child music program, developed at Princeton’s Center for Music and Young Children. And as Miss Kym puts it, “It has been helping children and their grown ups find their inner ability to create music for 26 years. Classes are designed to get parents involved in the nurturing of their child’s musical growth, while their young brains are developing. We learn the most from the people we love the most in our lives, and that includes parents, grandparents, caregivers, and older siblings. So with all of that in mind, you will find a nice mix of children in class, ages birth to 5, who are at different stages of development. We sing, dance, and create a multivitamin of musicality!“ The way I see it, it’s the perfect opportunity for Gray and I to indulge our inner songstresses. I know, I know… for some of you, this notion makes your stage fright heebie jeebies work overtime. Perhaps the thought of singing publicly is right up there with wanting to streak naked through Dodger stadium, or be covered from head to toe in tarantulas. But I think you’d be surprised at just how informal and relaxed these classes are. Nobody calls on you to belt out the Star Spangled Banner by yourself, or to dance the Hokey Pokey while all of the other parents point and laugh. The fact is we’re all there to encourage our own children, so nobody cares about what anyone else is doing. (Otherwise known as: If you’re being goofy and making a fool of yourself, it means I am too! All for the love of our kids, right?) Miss Kym often tells us, “No performance anxiety is necessary here. We are just going to share our love of making music with our kids in a musically rich environment. You don’t need to sound like Carrie Underwood to be a good role model.” And in a music-driven town like Nashville, that’s always nice to hear!
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
In class, my little Gray is an observer; she takes it all in and files it away for future use. She may not be the first to vocalize or boogie down in front of her peers, but rest assured she’s singing her heart out in the car on the way home. I’ve come to realize the lessons are sinking in, whether or not it’s reflected in class. Miss Kym is good about reminding us that our children are free to move around and respond to music in their own unique way, a mindset I whole-heartedly respect. I’m glad my child can feel free to participate in a manner that makes her comfortable. None of the children are being prepped for infant American Idol try-outs, or to become the next Shirley Temple. And no Honey Boo Boo mamas (or papas, for that matter) allowed! Each child gets to set their own pace, and if that means they spend the entire class walking in circles, so be it. The truth is, the students are never completely ignoring the music, even when they aren’t interested in directly taking part. Sometimes Gray never even leaves my lap, and that’s okay too. I simply want to nurture a passion I know is in already in her heart, without putting pressure on her to “perform.” I want to give Gray the encouragement she needs to explore how music can feed her soul. Who knows, maybe she’ll wind up pursuing opera, or becoming a boy band groupie (if that’s the case, you’ll likely find her dad off crying in a corner somewhere), or playing tuba in the marching band. Regardless of the genre of music she embraces, or her method of articulating it, I’m certain she’ll continue to make music an integral part of her life. This is helping to lay the foundation.
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
― Albert Einstein
I acknowledge that not every child is destined to “think in music” as Einstein did, but I feel they all deserve the opportunity to try it on for size. I’ve been somewhat discouraged by the number of art and music programs that have been cut from schools across the country in recent years. I believe that a crucial part of providing our children with an education is teaching them to communicate their artistic passions as well as their academic ones. There’s merit in learning to follow cadence and rhythm, to experience the satisfaction of accomplishing something through self-expression. Yes, I agree that children need to learn how to solve algebraic equations and conduct science experiments too… But what’s life without art? And what happens to those children who aren’t fulfilled by a history lesson, or a math problem, or a French class? Where do they go to be challenged and satisfied? I recently saw a Youtube video of a four-year-old boy riding in the car with his father. The kid was in his car seat bawling his eyes out, and my first thought was, “Ok, what prompted this kid’s tears? Is he tired? Hungry? Did he lose his favorite binkie?” The truth is, the little boy was overcome with emotion over a song his dad was listening to on the radio (“Say Something,” by A Great Big World). That sweet little soul couldn’t possibly have understood the literal meaning of the song, but the intention of it certainly resonated with him. The song prompted a feeling so inexplicable that he wept, even at four years old. Incredible, right? And that’s the beauty of music. It deeply moves us in a way nothing else can.
Anyway, the point is—and I swear I do have one—I’m challenging you to really put some thought into your child’s music education. March is technically Music In Our Schools Month, but let’s bring it home too! There’s no wrong way to introduce music to a child; it doesn’t matter if your kids are two or ten, and it doesn’t have to be through a Music Together class (though if you’re interested, here’s the link: www.musictogether.com. It’s an international program, so you’re likely to find a class near you, regardless of where you live!). Moreover, it isn’t just about providing your youngsters with children’s music—Disney tunes are fantastic, but open their ears and minds. I strongly support playing anything and everything, so I challenge you to go outside of your comfort zone! My husband and I listen to a variety of music, from The Beatles, to Willie Nelson, to Dixieland Jazz. The idea is to give Gray a well-rounded selection, so she can decide what does and doesn’t light a fire in her belly. The rest is up to her.
Happy listening to you and yours!
Until next time… Peace, Love, and Dirty Diapers,
Jenna von Oy
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